The End of Average

On April 21, 2022, I wrote a blog on the book entitled: The End of Average by Todd Rose. As I have lived with the concepts from this book and processed through my life, I have had several new thoughts. So, at the risk of repeating myself, let me take that original post and expand it some in this post. 

This book is a must for every parent, educator, assessor, leader, and friend. Don’t pass go without reading this book. It describes the strategy I have had to learn and develop in my life the hard way.  Todd is a statistician like me. Ironically, he dropped out of high school and struggled with learning until he figured out that he was unique! The premise of the book is that in every area of life (including the church), we are conditioned to compare ourselves with the average. We have glorified this concept of average to such an extent that we think something is wrong if we are below average in anything!

Averages are meaningless as far as describing reality is concerned. In the graduate statistics classes I taught at the University of Central Florida, I would illustrate this with my students by stating the average American has one breast and one testicle! But it is still difficult to find someone that matches that description. And that is true of averages. Most often, averages don’t describe reality. The point of the book, and something I believe with all my head and heart, is: NO ONE IS AVERAGE. To combat “averagism,” one must establish a concept of individuality. In other words, we are all unique individuals. And I believe created by God that way!

There are three conditions for individuality, according to Rose: 1) Jagged, 2) Context, and 3) Pathways. These three so clearly describe my perspective of assessments. I believe everyone is “Fearfully and Wonderfully made” (Psalm 139.14). I have done thousands of assessments, and every one of these individuals was exceptional in some unique way.

Basically, Jagged means that one cannot adequately describe a variable such as intelligence, talent, character, or most things of significance in life by a single number. I understand we try to do this in all of life, but when we do, we violate so much of the uniqueness of the individual and lose much accuracy. Just because you finish a test quicker than another, does that really mean you are more intelligent? No. Jigsaw means we are fast at some things and slow at other things. Most things in life are jagged by their nature.

Context means we are all different in different contexts. In some contexts, I act one way, and in other contexts, I act differently. This is true for most of us. Not only are most concepts jagged, but most contexts cause us to respond according to what is happening around us.  For instance, I am normally not a detailed person, but I can become compulsively fixated on details when I am in the midst of elaborate statistical operations. Context is very important!

Pathways mean we all learn through pathways that will be unique to our jaggedness and consistent with our context. This doesn’t imply that there are as many pathways as there are people.  But usually, there are multiple ways people learn, process information, grow and/or change.

Even babies now are known to learn to crawl much differently from each other. Just 15 years ago, babies were compared to averages or a standard milestone of developmental crawling. If a baby didn’t meet a certain milestone by a certain age or if they did it in a completely different method, the parents were often told something could be wrong with the child. We have learned so much in just 15 years! There are at least 25 different ways children learn to crawl, and some never crawl at all, they learn to walk without crawling, and there are no related problems.

So how do followers of Christ grow? I think we must keep the Jagged, Context, and Pathways criteria in mind as “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect* in Christ.” (Colossians 1.28).

Think of how often we try to help individuals grow by totally ignoring these three principles.  We ignore jaggedness when we measure someone’s spiritual growth or maturity by a number or a milestone. If they have not progressed adequately, we make a judgment about their lack of motivation, passion, godliness, etc. Two years after beginning my new life in Christ at the University of Michigan, I graduated and took a job in the marketplace instead of going on staff with Cru as I was “challenged” to do by my mentors. I distinctly remember being told that my perspective was a lack of maturity because I wanted to go out and make money rather than raise money from others to support myself. Sorry, Daryl, I didn’t do it your preferred way.

We also plot a linear path which we expect everyone to follow in order to grow spiritually. First, we complete Book #1, then Book #2, then Book #3, and so on. There is often only one path that we think everyone must follow. As an Engineering student at Michigan, the guy (Bob) in whose group I was initially placed, wisely chose the first book we studied as new Christians as Genesis in Space and Time by Francis Schaeffer. He knew my questions were on a different plane than many other students. This book changed my life by allowing me to think and grow in my faith according to a path unique to my context. I know Bob took lots of pressure for deviating from the ‘curriculum,’ but I am eternally grateful. Thanks, Bob.

I have been so privileged in my spiritual pilgrimage thus far to have had mentors who guided me and understood the context in which I needed to be pointed. This is so critical today as various expressions of the body of Christ (the Church) become manifested. For example, some people got upset when their church did or didn’t meet on Christmas because it fell on Sunday. So what? Remember the context! Had I been expected to show up on Sunday morning in college instead of Thursday night (it was called the TNT, for Thursday Night Thing), I doubt I would be where I am in my faith today. I would have rejected what I felt were forms over function. Context for me was critical for my developed faith.  Thanks, Chuck, Paul, and Al. 

My prayer is that we would all keep jaggedness, context, and pathways in mind as we guide others in their faith.

A Christmas Reflection

This past week I received an email from my friend and colleague, Stephen Lewis. Mary Kay and I were greatly touched by his reflections and expressions. He gave me permission to share it with all of you this season. Thank you, Stephen. I pray you are as touched as we were.

Christmas Reflection

In this season, we celebrate the messiness of a human birth, of the displacement of God from heaven to earth, from infinite to finite. Immanuel, God with us. We honor the obedient faith of a young woman and of her husband, of a family displaced by political circumstances beyond their control. And it resonates in my heart and mind, broken and caught by the displacement in our world today of millions.

And that’s what I’ve noticed in reflecting on the outlines of the Nativity story this year, that Christmas highlights displacement, the effect of being moved, removed, from the place where we were—of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem; of God from heaven to earth, from immortal to mortal; of shepherds from field to town; of Magi from the east to Bethlehem; of a family warned of death escaping to Egypt; of Rachel weeping for her children.

Displacement introduces us to a liminal space, a space between what was and what will be, a place where we may live for a moment or for a lifetime, often due to circumstances beyond our control, whether it’s the Ukrainians who find themselves on the run for safety and fighting on the frontlines, the Congolese in flight from the fighting along the border with Uganda and Rwanda, the millions whose lives have been caught in the unrelenting rage of COVID, or the Venezuelans fleeing starvation, seeking a place to earn enough to live on. 

The truth is that I’m overwhelmed by the news of displacement. We’re overwhelmed by it. We’re fatigued by life in a liminal space that we’ve only begun to traverse.

As midnight strikes on New Year’s Eve, 2022 will be displaced by 2023. None of us knows what displacements, what new places, what reversals, what detours, what celebrations, what successes await us in the new year. But we know that our God is faithful, that our God draws near to us and sustains our hope.

“Father, remind us that you have drawn near to us. Give us hope and strength for the days of change in which we live, strength and hope to remain present with eyes wide open, engaged in the displacements of our time. And soften our hearts that we might draw near to the millions of our neighbors experiencing displacement in this world. May we live with eyes and hearts open. And may we be your presence in doing so.”

Dying Daily

Most people would say I am in the “Self Help” profession. I spend most of my time helping people figure out their “A-game.” I have spent years developing assessment instruments to help people figure out what they are naturally wired to do. I spend hours with leaders helping them to lead better. I enable them to become better versions of themselves or be better influencers of others.

However, there is an assumption in my work that may not be obvious. I believe that God creates each of us to be unique and unlike anyone else. Ironically, many of us try to be someone quite contrary to this unique, gifted self for different reasons. My observation is that people can only become someone contrary to their wiring at great effort and at great cost to themselves and their impact. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139.13-18). The early events in our lives can reinforce this wiring, alter it or destroy it.

I spend a lot of time helping people see how God can use the good, the bad, and the ugly in their lives to form them into someone special and irreplaceable. It isn’t only the nature of the events but our response to those events that produce our exceptional abilities. Most often, the passion people possess originates from the pain they processed and passed through. 

So I am not in the self-help profession as much as I am in the God-help profession. I don’t think we need to pull ourselves up from our bootstraps to make someone of ourselves. I think we need to die to our self so that we can be the kind of person our loving God intended us to be…someone like no one else, a one-of-a-kind creation. Only as we die to our desires to be someone we were not designed to be, are we able to be who God created us to be. 

In other words, as we love God more than a desired “image” of ourselves will we be on the road of becoming who we were designed to be by our Master Creator.

I am convinced that is why Jesus and the teachings of the New Testament say we must die to self over and over (Luke 9.25, Romans 6.6, Ephesians 4.22-24, Colossians 3.9-10). Only by dying to self are we able to be who God created us to be. Most Christians today would agree with that statement. So where is the problem?

Here is the conundrum I have working with people…

How do I get leaders to accept and develop their wonderful unique, inimitable strengths while at the same time giving up their own desires to have things the way they want them? 

As I have written in previous Thursday Thoughts (TT-Keeping the Faith, April 28, 2022), I believe there is a healthy breaking when we reach the end of our own resources. It is in this season of hardship we are more pliable in our creator’s hands. However, in this blog, I am talking about a need to die daily, which needs to be a part of our lives if we are going to love others and be the best version of ourselves.

For me, this process of dying to self began in college. As a twenty-year-old engineering student, I came face to face with who Jesus is. I comprehended for the first time how he wanted me to be the best version of myself through loving him above everything else in this world. I had no idea how to love others. At that juncture in my life, it was all about Greg. It took me years to fully appreciate and apprehend how God’s love for me would literally change how I relate to everyone for the rest of my life. I am still learning.

Two years later, at my wedding ceremony, I heard and grasped a transformative concept of what it meant to love others. The pastor, Don Loomer, was explaining to me how to love my bride, Mary Kay Anderson. He told me I was to love Mary Kay like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5.25-33), and as romantic as it sounds, few of us would ever have an opportunity to love our wives by physically dying to save her as Christ died on the cross for the church.  He was right. I have never had the chance to throw my body in front of a speeding car to save her. I have been hit by more than one car, but not out of love for her, more out of stupidity or impulsivity (TT-Living in Light of Eternity, August 4, 2022).

Don continued to say that I would have thousands of opportunities to deny myself to serve Mary Kay. In other words, I would have many chances to die daily for her. He was right, and nothing has so profoundly helped me grasp what it means to love her. I needed to choose daily to deny my own desires and wishes to allow her to have her way. Don further explained that if both individuals in a loving relationship treated each other like this, the relationship would be one of growth, wonder, and depth. Now, these four and a half decades later, I wholeheartedly agree with him. It has taken a lot of work, and we haven’t always demonstrated this kind of dying daily towards each other, but this has been our goal. To die daily for the other.

I think this aspect of daily denying to our self is necessary for us to be the best version of ourselves; only then can we love our God and others appropriately. The litmus test for me is this: what am I willing to live without in order to be who God is making me? How often am I willing to serve and love others who don’t like or agree with me? 

Simply look at the social media feeds of people who claim to be followers of Christ to see how they are willing to deny themselves for others. We are wired to love and be loved. This is only going to happen as we learn to die to our idealized version of ourselves and allow God to renew us from the inside out. 

What a great time in our culture for us, as followers of Christ, to demonstrate love and compassion toward those who don’t reciprocate it. Unlike many around us, we can act differently by denying ourselves daily for others. Only then will our unique strengths allow us to be the best versions of our self as intended by God.

Good News is Living with Love

Jesus is clear in his life and teachings that our love for our God is foundational for living the life he desires for us to live. As I wrote the blog Principles and Practices (November 24, 2022), this is a very primary principle. We will become all he has for us as we first learn to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love others as we love ourselves. This kind of love will be seen in our joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control within ourselves and with others.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking, and envying each other.

Galatians 5.22-26

The presence of God living in us through his Spirit naturally produces these qualities. In this passage, Paul wrote to remind the Galatians that there was no need for laws or lists of do’s and don’ts, but rather they were to simply love others in this way, nothing else. These first-century followers of Christ turned the world upside down, not by their use of force, power, persuasion, or money. Quite to the contrary, they didn’t have any of these resources; they just lived the kinds of lives that demonstrated the Spirit’s fruit through the way they treated others. They profoundly loved those around them, their enemies, the outcasts, the underserved…like no one else had ever seen throughout history.

Paul wasn’t a Pollyanna as he wrote these words; he was tortured, beaten, and eventually killed for his life of loving others through Christ. He was rooted in reality as he served people who were far from Christ. His faith and life were built on living in the presence of an ever-present God. This faith was not dependent on what happened or how others treated him.  Despite what took place or how he was treated, he simply did what his master modeled. He was convinced that Jesus’ life and teachings compelled him to love everyone, and likewise, so should we. 

Jesus is quite emphatic when he says,

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13.34-35

Ask people who don’t attend a church to describe a Christian, and I guarantee that most of them will not describe disciples of Christ as those who love others regardless of how they are treated. I doubt they would say that most disciples of Christ even love life. So many Christians today are known for what they are against or what they believe rather than the quality of love they demonstrate. It bothers me how few followers of Christ exhibit these attributes, fruit, or byproducts of the presence of the Spirit within us. These loving qualities simply result from being in a thriving relationship with God.

Many people who are far from the church surely wouldn’t describe what Christians believe as “Good News.”  Yet, we call it good news because it is good news! The gospel (which means good news) is that we are no longer bound by the events and happenings of this world but are literally citizens of another world. Our lives should express the fact that we can love God, others, our lives, and ourselves because our love is not based upon merit, ours, or others. No matter what anyone can do to us, we can still love them. No matter how distorted our culture becomes, we can still be people of grace, joy, peace, and contentment. 

Life isn’t all there is; we don’t have to have our way or have all our needs met now. We have all eternity to do so. Until then, let’s be people of good news that looks like the good news.  Let our lives be lived in such a manner that people will wonder what we know that they don’t. That is the good news…a life free to experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control through life on earth.

Who do you need to love today, whether they deserve it or not?

What Are Your Dreams?

When I was in my twenties, I used to get so frustrated by older men and women who gave up trying new things. They would just settle. As I would dream about what could be, some would tell me it would never work while others would listen patiently, and yet I could tell in their minds few, very few, would engage with the idea or entertain how to make it a reality with me.

In my first board meeting in the first church where I was the lead pastor, I literally had an elder tell me, ”But Greg, we have never done it that way…” and so discounted the new approach I was suggesting for how we did “church.”  I was shocked because I thought it was obvious that the issue was the very reason the church was not reaching new people or seeing lives transformed.

As I have aged, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Most old men and women don’t dream dreams any longer because they simply are worn down, lost their energy, and become “grumpy old men (and women).” This is such a generally accepted fact of life that books and movies have been produced around this theme. It is just the way it is! Or so it seems.

In Acts 2, Peter gives his first sermon on Pentecost. Peter quotes from Joel when he describes what happens to people who are indwelt with the Spirit of God. One of the marks will be that “…old men will dream dreams…”. Why does he say that? I think it is because as people age, they generally give up walking by faith and settle for walking by sight. And we know their sight it is getting pretty bad!

I wrote last week about how often people who define their call by a role can become grumpy old people when they are no longer in that role. However, the problem is more pervasive than just ex-pastors.

As men and women age, they have seen it all. They were passionate young people who had fire in their veins. They tackled injustices and tried to make a difference in the world through their zeal. However, as life happened and relationships failed, their edges got a lot softer.  In some ways, this was a good thing. But there is another parallel process that is also taking place; they became more cynical. “They have tried that, and it didn’t work.” 

The result of this wearing-down process for most people is that they lose their creative energy. They have no mojo. They give up and simply let life happen. They are carried along by events rather than attempting to engage in a transformative way.

That is what I love about Peter’s description of old men who experience the transforming power of God’s Spirit at work in their lives. They dream dreams again.

This last week I listened to twenty presentations of mostly young Christian entrepreneurs who are launching out on creative ways of serving the world and church in bringing the transformative power of Christ to bear in our culture. There were some pretty “out of the box” kinds of ministries that are being launched. Most were seeking financial, prayer, or participative support.*

Somewhere deep in the recesses of my head, I could hear myself wanting to say, “It won’t work. You will be disappointed, broke, and frustrated because of the struggle…”. But just as quickly as I heard that, I felt the Spirit nudge me to help network with those that I could be of benefit. I needed to encourage them and help them. I needed to dream dreams with them.

I have personally experienced the disappointment and brokenness in life that comes from failed relationships and failed opportunities of impact. I have heard the thoughts that a certain young person has no clue of what is going to happen to them when they launch out into their grand venture. But I also know the power of the Spirit at work in me to keep an expectation to dream dreams. I know the hope that things will work out differently for others than they may have for me. I know the faith that leads me to take steps beyond what I can reasonably accomplish in and through my own efforts. I launched this blog, Thursday Thoughts, as a 68-year-old.

I don’t judge those who no longer dream dreams. I actually pity them. I feel sorry for the fact that their life is lived on a plane of drifting along, blown by the tides of culture. I also know they don’t have access or at least don’t know how to access the transformative power of the Spirit of God working in them. Because once they do, they will walk by faith and not by sight, and then they will dream dreams.

I have worked hard at not growing old before I die. That is not easy. I know of quite a few older men and women who stopped dreaming in their late 30s and died in their 80s. I also know a bunch of cool people who died physically before they stopped dreaming.

One was Mac Rigel. He and I had just had a conversation about some new church he wanted to start the day before he died, well into his 80s. He was driving from an appointment and pulled off the road, and died of a heart attack. He died in the saddle! He is one of my heroes. Sure he dreamed a lot of dreams that never became reality, but he lived by faith and transformed a lot of lives.

That is my prayer for my life.

What are your dreams?

*Missional labs

What is Your Calling?

What is your calling? Why are you living on Earth? 

Let me put on the table that we are all called. I am bothered by professional pastors who identify their call as something more special than others of different vocations. 

We are all called. Period.

One’s call is no better than another’s. It is interesting to me to see how as churches grew in size and organization over the 300 years after following Christ’s death, this sense of pastoral call became elevated over the call of others in the body of Christ.

So regardless of who signs your check, what is your calling?

I have had about six completely different careers thus far in my lifetime, but only one calling. It surely has looked different in the different roles I have filled in churches, organizations, and ministries. However, my call has been consistent.

If your calling is defined as a role, eventually, you will be disappointed. 

I work with a number of young pastoral candidates who define their call as identified in a role. In other words, they feel called to be a Lead Pastor, Youth Pastor, Children’s pastor, or however they label their idealized role. I believe this kind of thinking is why Covid was so difficult on many pastors. And it explains why there are so many bitter pastors post-covid.  They no longer find fulfillment in their role because the rules have changed. If they had defined their call more broadly, when their role changed, they would still be able to fulfill their call. As we will see later, your call informs your role, but it isn’t the same.

I have seen another danger of defining your call as I have worked with congregations. Some of the most cantankerous people in the congregation were those who had defined their call to be a pastor, but for one reason or another, they were not able to fulfill that role. These ex or wannabe pastors are bitter because they have an inner angst that results from them not fulfilling their desired role in a church. 

I also see the danger in defining your call as a role with those who retire from that role.  They basically check out of Kingdom work. They think retirement means moving on from their call to play golf. I have no problem with playing golf. Well, actually, I do have a problem playing golf, but that is because of my inability, not because of the sport itself. The reason I struggle with this is because, in scripture, death is retirement. 

Paul says in the last chapter of the last letter he wrote before he was killed, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4.6-7). Paul saw he had finished the race as he was dying, not when his support checks from the church at Philippi ended.

Paul’s call never changed despite being a pastor, planter, apostle, author, prisoner, evangelist, or tentmaker.  His call remained the same through all of these roles.

If we are all called, how do we define our call? 

Let me suggest our call is informed by how we are uniquely wired and the principles we find in scripture that guide the way we live. We will unpack that in the second week of January 2023. Until then, take time to search the scriptures for the principles that guide your life and identify how your unique wiring helps you fulfill those principles, given who you are.

Principles and Practices

Practices are many,
Principles are few,
Practices often change,
Principles never do.

These words have shaped my life for a long time…

I wrote in my last blog about how people may not live the things they believe. Or at least the things they espouse to believe. In other words, they may give verbal or cognitive ascent to certain truths or principles but then fail to live consistently with these principles. The scriptures are a combination of principles and practices.   

Principles are enduring truths that transcend cultures and time, whereas practices are how those principles are applied to specific times and cultures. Much of the New Testament was written to specific people in specific times and therefore has some practices for those audiences. 

For instance, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul deals with a cultural understanding of worship as it relates to the length of hair of men and women in the church in the city of Corinth. A great deal of division has arisen over this passage throughout the centuries because Paul is dealing with a specific practice of worship in this first-century church. One can’t take that practice out of the context of everything Paul had to say to that specific church about worship. In fact, most of the sixteen chapters of this letter center around various practices in worship.

I grew up in a culture that emphasized practices over principles. We couldn’t dance, play games with face cards, or marry anyone who wasn’t a part of the Church of God, Anderson. Wow, how easy is it for these practices to become primary and yet so small. It is so much easier to tell who is in and who is out by setting up practices that are easy to measure. In other words, if you keep these practices and you will be safe…or so we were told.

I rejected them while a young kid. I saw through them quite easily. I ran for 8th-grade student council president specifically so I would have to go to the dances to oversee the event…it worked! My parents let me go. There were people in my church who were critical of those who smoked because of the damage it did to their lungs, yet they were obesely overweight. I challenged them that they were putting as much strain on their physical anatomy as were the smokers. It just didn’t make sense to me to pick on one behavior, vice, or addiction when others were just as damaging but maybe not as identifiable.

I rejected these practices quickly, and it wasn’t until I was at college did I hear the principle from scriptures on how I could experience life in relationship with God full of intention, purpose, and meaning. It was this principle, the principle of grace, that transformed my life.  It is a principle that is portrayed throughout the NT. From that point forward, an inner transformative process has been at work. Surely, it has produced changes in my practices, that is, the way I live my life. But it is principles that transform and then govern the way we live.

So how does one separate practices from principles in the New Testament?

Dallas Willard states in Hearing God:

Principles of Scripture are to be identified most of all from the actions, spirit, and explicit statements of Jesus himself.

Dallas Willard

We read about Jesus in the Gospels, and Philippians 2.6 tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of God. So we see God’s principles through his life and teachings. And the rest of the NT is the story of how the Holy Spirit worked in the church(es) after Jesus’ ascending to heaven and the Spirit came to finish the work he started.

As one reads the Bible, the principles become evident from Genesis to Revelation. Our doctrine comes out of the new covenant, which is why it is called the New Testament (or covenant), and from the principles that result from the covenant of grace.  In the New Testament, we read about the principles that Jesus taught and modeled and then how the first-century Christians practiced these principles and literally changed the world.

I find it interesting that as I have read the scriptures through somewhere around fifteen times so far in my lifetime, the principles become obvious. I think age has something to do with it as well. I have seen how so many people have capitalized on practices to their own and others’ detriment. 

Principles are those concepts that articulate God and our relationship to him. They describe who we are in relationship to others. They describe the world and our relationship to it. It seems that people get in trouble when they don’t read the word in total enough to gain insight into the principles therein. It seems that people get into trouble when they focus on the practices rather than the principles. And it also seems people get into trouble when they search the scriptures for practices to justify something they want to do. Surely, they can find it somewhere in the Bible by twisting a verse. 

I have always been drawn to Principle Living over Practice Living. This is because principles tend to work down deep in my soul.  Surely, practices eventually emerge which reflect these principles. But for me, it always starts with principles. The challenge with principles is that each of us may apply them differently. In other words, we both may agree on the principle, but the practice that emerges in each of our lives may look very different.  Therefore, denominations/churches in the past identified specific practices by which they could monitor behavior.  It was called sin management. 

It is impossible to monitor principles the same way you monitor practices.

As I have met with followers of Christ around the world, it has been fun for me to see how various cultures practice very similar principles in very different ways. This may be hard to understand for those who have not been exposed to sincere believers from many different cultures. But those with greater cultural exposure have had to develop greater Cultural Intelligence (CQ). 

I spent a few hours identifying the principles that I find in scriptures that govern how I live my life. I have listed those which came to mind below but let me assure you they are neither complete nor definitive. There are many better thinkers than I who have given much thought to this. Here is my shot at it:

  1. I am created for intimacy with God, and therefore I must love God with every part of me and before everything else in my life (mentally, emotionally, physically, relationally, financially, etc.)
    • God has graciously provided wholeness in my relationship with him by providing for my own selfishness in Christ’s death on the cross
    • I experience a new and transformed life as I appropriate Christ’s forgiveness and participate in that redemptive gift
    • I need to mature myself well over my entire lifetime to love God more by seeking things which draw me toward him and avoid those things which draw me away from him
    • God’s Spirit literally transforms me inwardly as I cooperate with him
  2. I am created for intimacy with others; therefore I am to love others
    • I need to manage myself well to love others more
    • In my marriage I must honor, love, and serve my spouse.
    • In my parenting I must steward the kids God has given me through loving, setting boundaries, and serving them
  3. My love for God and others is demonstrated by submitting my own desires for their benefit
  4. I am on earth to fulfill my calling of seeing others grow in their relationship with Christ through my own unique, natural, and gifted way
  5. I sacrifice in the short term for impact in the long term

I live by these primary principles, and I experience a lot of freedom because I am not bound by practices.  Rather I am committed to living by these principles, which can grow and adjust as the situation changes.  By the way, my practices have changed throughout my life thus far, but the principles have remained firm.

Who Defines Your Faith?

It seems to me that a factor for the division among Christians today results from followers of Christ defining their faith as simply holding a set of intellectual beliefs*. If that is allowed or accepted, then we can hold these beliefs and still act like those around us. The determining factor in how we live depends on “who” we identify with (church, political party, geographic, ethnicity, gender, etc.) rather than as scripture portrays. Jesus taught and modeled a way of living, not a set of intellectual beliefs. For Jesus, living in the Kingdom of God is demonstrating that Jesus IS the LORD of our lives. Our living should be a demonstration that we are part of a kingdom that is different from what we see lived around us.

According to the New Testament, we are literally aliens in this world and, therefore, should stand out as different. Don’t read stupid; read differently from those who do not have Jesus as their Lord. This is how Christianity grew, and the world was changed during the first three centuries in a way that has not been replicated since. I find it especially interesting that this all happened BEFORE the Bible was even written.

Once the scriptures were written, people began developing belief statements to codify faith. Obviously, this was the intent of the Councils and Creeds, which resulted. You can pick your creed: The Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian, or Chalcedonian**. Each further clarified what was written in the New Testament documents. Each of these Creeds not only allowed us to clarify our faith but also resulted in others being excluded. The Creeds further clarified who was in and who was out. This is what clarifying does.

The New Testament scriptures gave a clear description of how Jesus lived and what he taught, as well as how his disciples in the early church lived out his teachings. But individuals have used the scripture to establish a code of beliefs and behaviors. The New Testament wasn’t as “cleanly” packaged as the creeds because the New Testament books were written by various authors from various cultures over 70 years. For this reason, the scriptures do allow for disagreement between followers of Christ on similar passages. That is why the Creeds were written, to clear up the things not as clearly identified as some wanted from the scriptures.

There is an upside and downside to this process of consensus creedal development in this way. The upside was the Creeds clarified doctrines. But the downside was that they clearly allow for individuals to intellectually ascent to a set of beliefs without having a transforming relationship with the creator of the world and becoming a citizen of His Kingdom. They could simply ascribe to a set of beliefs and then live their lives as a King, advisor, leader, follower, servant, or slave with little regard to what a transformed life would look like from their position. There was a major disconnect between what the Creeds pointed to and how this divine would interact in their lives.

This allowed Kings to believe in Creeds and yet be cruel and merciless. It allowed men to ascribe to doctrines and abuse women and children. It allows for many today to seek to get the most out of living their life in the short term at the expense of the long term for the earth we live in.

Ironically, the scriptures are used in the same way as creeds today. Ironically, the scriptures have even more room to justify one’s beliefs. Individuals can pick and choose passages to justify their own self-serving actions. These are most often quite contrary to what living as a submitted follower of Jesus and a citizen of his Kingdom should look like. Too many people today give mental ascent to some set of beliefs from the New Testament scriptures and then they think and act like those around them.  Obviously, it depends on the those they identify with that determines their behavior rather than being a person in Christ’s Kingdom.  Their “those” could be their church, political party, ethnic group, family or culture of origin, gender, generation of birth, business, friends, or whomever they identify with.

Again, I am not suggesting the Creeds are bad, nor are the Scriptures irrelevant. I am suggesting that people often find some way to ignore the central and primary teaching of becoming a follower of Christ. They have developed a minimally viable belief system or statement which involves only a cognitive ascent rather than a life-orienting construal. It is no wonder those thinking people and often younger people are rejecting this facsimile of the faith portrayed in the New Testament which reorients everything in one’s life all the way down to who they serve and with whom they connect. This is what is taught in the New Testament, not credal faith but Kingdom of God citizenship.

*Andy Stanley…Not in to win it

**For a list of Creeds…

Perfect Prayers

I have always admired people who have the verbal skills to offer prayers in public contexts that seem to move heaven and hell. Their words are well chosen and pregnant with meaning and emotions. Though I admire them, I have never been able to replicate them. It just isn’t me. So what was the problem? I have considered several reasons for my inadequacy in this area, lack of spiritual depth, being too self-conscious, or just not enough practice.

My struggle with public praying doesn’t keep me from doing it. I offer prayers at all kinds of events like weddings, funerals, family functions, small groups, and at our dinner table, to name a few. Being a pastor requires you to pray in front of others. It doesn’t bother me to pray in front of others, I do it all the time. It is just my prayers never sound like those I mention above. My struggles aren’t because I don’t pray; I pray all the time. Recently reading a book by Dallas Willard (Hearing God) has caused me to reflect deeply about both my personal and public prayers.

As I have done this, I think I have figured out why my prayers are not as polished or well-worded. I think it is related to the way I pray. My prayers are a lot like my conversations…they are a stream of consciousness. In other words, in my private praying, I just say what is in my head without processing it through cognitive structures, which would cause the words to come out right. I have a running dialogue with God which ends up being a lot of random thoughts, desires, and emotions (both positive and negative).

I don’t separate talking with God from my normal thought process. I know this sounds strange, but God knows everything about me. So, I am convinced that I am best to be continuously open before God. It isn’t unusual for me to have a tempting thought to do something I know I shouldn’t, and I will laugh in my head, telling God, isn’t that a bad thing. I think that is confession. This isn’t something I have had to develop; it has developed naturally through my walk with Christ and attempting to be totally honest with him.

Even when I sin in some way, I don’t have to “come before God” and confess it to him; rather, I just acknowledge it was wrong, and we move on. Most people don’t think I am a praying person because I don’t spend huge amounts of time dedicated to praying specific prayers for specific people. This is a good thing, but when I am told about a situation or every time I think of that situation, it is like God is there in my thoughts, and I acknowledge that God must work in this situation.

I know this sound a little mystic, but it really isn’t. It is the way I have learned to communicate with God. I remember, as a twenty-year-old, just after committing my life to Christ, I was asked to pray in the church I grew up in on Sunday morning. I opened the prayer with “Good morning, God…”.  I wasn’t asked to pray again. It didn’t fit their expectation of Pastoral Prayer. That was fine with me, I thought it was their problem rather than mine. I now think it was a problem on both sides.

So my recent insight is this: could it be that because I pray like a stream of consciousness in front of others, it doesn’t come out right? Perhaps this seems awkward because this is not how we normally talk with others. 

Public prayer means I must suddenly enter into dialogue with God in front of others.  However, I have been in dialogue with God all along, so am I now supposed to talk differently than I would otherwise? In other words, to be most effective, I have to reorganize my thoughts into normal sentence structures. This process isn’t a bad idea, but now I know why my prayers seem disjointed and stunted: I have to verbally express what has been an ongoing stream-of-consciousness thought process with others listening.

Therefore my public prayers are a little stilted. People might ask me why? If you pray all the time, it should be natural to pray before and with others. This is true, but my ongoing dialogue with God is of a different nature, where I am very honest, open, and transparent. Those kinds of prayers before others aren’t always appropriate. If you read most printed prayers and public prayers, you will find them eloquent, well-worded, theologically sound, and grammatically correct.

My prayers simply aren’t like that. I don’t even talk to others like that. Many of you know in conversation that I have a rapid rate of speech and often say inappropriate things. My prayers reflect this entirely, they are much more free-flowing with fragments of sentences, questions, thoughts, and run-on sentences.

I will probably continue to struggle in phrasing my public prayers as I have in the past.  However, now I know why and don’t feel inadequate in so doing.

Math or English?

I went into high school loving math and struggling with language arts. Why? 

I am an analytical, verbal and social person.  Knowing what I know now, I am equally competent in both. So why was I turned on to one and turned off to the other?

Let me suggest my relationships and perceptions of my 8th grade teachers dramatically impacted me.  It is sad to realize how the decisions we make are based upon emotional attachments that can skew our lives and preferences for decades.

In 7th and 8th grade, I had a Math teacher who was 22 and fresh out of college. Do the math. She was about 10 years older than me and an intentional, energetic, gifted, cute, and engaging teacher. She knew how to challenge me, and she did. She offered to take anyone from our class who got A’s in every marking period to a Michigan State Football game the following fall. She was a tutor for the team while in school and had connections. With this incentive, I literally devoured math that year, and it dramatically shaped the course of my life, thinking, and career. I am forever in debt to Ms. Smith/Mrs. Brown. Yes, it was a bummer for me, but she did marry a few years after arriving to teach. Ironically, we still communicate today via email. She continues to learn and engage with her “students.”

Contrast that with my English teacher, who was at least 105 years old and went to college before they had desks! Okay, maybe not, but she seemed ancient and cranky. She looked down through her glasses at me, which sat on the end of her nose with a chain hooked to them and hung around her neck. It would seem we didn’t click for whatever reason. As I looked at my 8th grade report card, my grades ranged from C’s to an A-, quite an assortment. This teacher commented several times that I need to work on “being able to accept constructive criticism.” I don’t doubt the veracity of this comment, but I find it interesting that it stands in stark contrast to several other teachers who wrote the very opposite about me in the same semester!

Unfortunately, I allowed my distaste for the language arts to haunt me for the next 25 years! I missed out on so much reading and developing in this area simply because I “felt” as if I didn’t like it. 

Only after I graduated from my undergrad (without reading a single book) did I fall in love with reading, when out of desire and necessity, I began to read and learn from books on how to appropriately relate to others, especially a future wife.  Then, a decade later, as I learned Greek in my master’s program, I realized that I loved languages as well.

This isn’t about good or bad teachers, though I would like to write about that someday. I give this illustration to explain how I chose to respond to diverse teachers so differently to my own detriment. In other words, I allowed two different teachers to dramatically influence my subject choices for the next 25 years, even if it wasn’t good for me.

Let me be the first to admit that, in the moment, I had no clue that I was doing this. Now, only after a lifetime of learning, teaching, thinking, and coaching others do I see how this happened for me. But I see it happening so often in the lives of people around me. 

  • They have a terrible relationship that causes them to react in unhealthy ways.
  • They allow the dysfunctions of their parents’ lives to script their choices for decades, to their own demise.
  • Because of whom they were compared to in their lives, they choose to be the very opposite kind of person, despite it not being who they really are.
  • They allow the critical words or actions of another to develop a critical spirit in themselves, toward themselves and/or others.

My life was forever changed by Mrs. Brown. But it was also changed by the English teacher, just in different ways. I am desperately making up for those lost years when I ignored reading and language art disciplines. 

There are two challenges for me here:

  1. I must be aware of how I am reacting negatively and positively to those around me because my reactions may not be healthy or best for my long-term growth.
  2. How can I work at being a “Mrs. Brown” to others by through my intentional, energetic, encouraging, and engaging efforts in the lives of those around me?
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